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New parties on horizon

Kem Ley, political analyst and founder of Khmer for Khmer, outside the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh in March
Kem Ley, political analyst and founder of Khmer for Khmer, outside the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh in March. Kem Ley plans to create five independent political parties in 2015. Vireak Mai

New parties on horizon

Political analyst Kem Ley plans to create a diverse set of independent political parties in the new year, tackling what he says is an autocratic “disease” infecting both the ruling party and the opposition.

Using his newly founded “social network” Khmer for Khmer as a springboard, Ley will register the parties at the communal, district and provincial levels of government, as well as create an Islamic party and an ethnic minority party, he told the Post last week. The idea is to start with five parties in different provinces and then potentially expand.

Ley’s intention, he said, is for the new entities to act as models of pluralistic “intra-party democracy” at the grassroots level.

“We will create local political parties, and those political parties will educate the people about the politics,” he said, adding that he does not intend to influence the parties’ politics beyond helping them establish their internal structures and bylaws.

Ley expects to register a provincial party in Kampong Speu, a commune party in Takeo, a district party in Ratanakkiri, an ethnic minority party in Mondulkiri and an Islamic party in Kampong Cham, all in the first half of 2015.

While Ley said it is legal to register parties at a commune or district government level, he admitted it has never been tried before. Given their small sizes, he said, it would be more practical for the parties to join forces with others instead of fielding their own candidates.

“They can make alliances if the CPP or CNRP agrees on their political platform, or all of them can come together to adopt a new body,” he said.

Ley also said the parties must ensure that ordinary party members vote for their leaders, adding that the large parties too often appoint leaders based on favouritism.

The plan has been welcomed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party but criticised by one opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker as “a waste of time”.

“The people are very smart and understand that in this situation the only ones who can compete with the CPP are the CNRP,” said Yim Sovann, CNRP spokesman and lawmaker.

“[Voters] do not want to waste their time just to go from one party to another when the CNRP is already strong.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said his party welcomed anyone to participate in political activities.

“As nation builders, we are never enemies with anyone who wants to help build our country as one nation,” he said.

Conscious of the potential for grassroots parties to divide the opposition and dilute its strength, Ley said any threat posed to the CNRP would be the result of their own internal weakness.

The CPP has long pursued a political strategy to divide opposition coalitions and inflame differences of opinion between, for instance, CNRP president Sam Rainsy and his deputy, former Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha.

“If the CNRP is still very strong, and more competitive with the CPP . . . 100 new parties will not attract the supporters [away],” Ley said, adding that the CNRP, which came into existence in 2012 when the Sam Rainsy Party merged with Sokha’s Human Rights Party, could be in an ideal position to forge alliances with the new grassroots parties.

In the meantime, large sums of money are still needed to finance Ley’s endeavour and many barriers could stand in the way. None of the parties have applied for registration and projected costs have not been finalised.

Political analyst Chea Vannath said the “ambitious idea” seemed too grand to succeed, and that “it could work in theory on a conceptual level, but in practice is far beyond capabilities”, she said.

Ley’s goal is to raise more than $1 million for Khmer for Khmer, which he said would accumulate enough interest in the bank to fund its support of the grassroots parties. He would like to be funded by “development partners rather than okhnas or political allies”, he said, adding that the latter are common symptoms of “dirty politics”.

On Friday, the CNRP struck a deal with the CPP, securing an analogue television licence and setting a path for Sam Rainsy to become the head of all minority parties in parliament in exchange for concessions on reforms of the National Election Committee.

Yesterday, Rainsy merely said via email that he would consider all “interesting proposals” in response to Ley’s plan, but he did not elaborate further.

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